|Living Conditions of Low-income Older Persons in Human Settlements UNCHS (Habitat) (HABITAT, 1999, 38 p.)|
|IV. COUNTRY CASE STUDIES|
The survey and report were prepared by Ms. Khadijah Odeh-Piper, graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology School of Management. She is a business consultant and researcher.
Newark is located in the state of New Jersey ten miles west of New York City. It is the largest city in New Jersey with a total population of 275,000 in 1990 and has an extremely high population density (11,254 per square mile) U.S. census data indicates that the population is composed of three predominant ethnic groups: Black (58%), White (28.6%) and Hispanic (26%). Newark has unusually high poverty, public assistance and crime rates, and low educational attainment among U.S. cities.
The Citys Older Persons
There are approximately 32,000 older persons living in Newark. The largest number over 60 is the group of 65 to 69 year-olds which includes approximately 9000 individuals comprised of 5,000 females and 3800 males. There are more than 4,000 persons over the age of 80, and in all cases the majority are women. Over 2,000 seniors do not speak English very well.
The overwhelming majority of elderly interviewed were African American males. The persons interviewed were between the ages of 65 and 80 years old. Over 90% had fairly good health meaning that they were mobile and coping with their multiple medical diagnosis. Less than 5% were disabled or unable to walk.
The majority live on fixed incomes, including social security, pensions and their own savings. Two were still working: one aged 75 year old male, traveling daily to New York and one 67 year old woman. She still worked part-time because she stated she needed the money for her household, comprised of two other older persons and an adult child. Most respondents felt they were fortunate with very few problems.
Half of the older persons are living in households with family members. The other half are living with non-family members, or alone. 500 are institutionalized. Most of Newarks elderly live in apartment dwellings, Senior Housing and private homes. Senior Housing are apartment buildings for the elderly and disabled. Some units are subsidized. Housing alternatives include boarding homes, shared living residences, and continued care retirement communities.
Construction and utilities
The majority of buildings are constructed of brick and ranged from three to seven story apartment complexes. The private homes that were visited were wood frame dwellings with ten or more rooms. Space was more than adequate, but many community residents feel there is not enough senior housing for everyone. All of the survey respondents have piped water supply included in their rent. All have individual bathroom and modern sewage disposal systems.
Transportation services are quite extensive in the city of Newark and all of the survey respondents have easy access to public buses routes. Inexpensive van and taxi services are available and utilized if necessary when going shopping. Most of the active seniors dont utilize the senior discount because there is no discount if one uses the monthly bus pass. This was a cause for complaint.
Health care services
All of the respondents reported satisfactory assess to health services. All stated they were under a doctors care and did not necessarily distinguish the quality of care received, whether hospital, clinic or private physician. However, many seniors reported unmet needs. Many stated they needed glasses and help with the cost of their prescribed medication. Many respondents had arthritis and other conditions requiring pain relief medication and apparently needed help to pay for pain relief. And a few were not satisfied with the quality of care giving provided by home caretakers. All respondents when asked said that they needed help with dental services.
Need for individualized assistance
Male respondents articulated strongly their need for meal planning and household help. While unable to articulate the need for the friend and advocate assistance, many seniors were in need of such personalized and individualized assistance. In some instances, seniors were not utilizing available services because the information is not readily available. One of the older and frailer respondents has been totally house bound for the majority of the year. She stated she had not been outdoors or able to visit her place of worship. She said she would to do so if she was able.
Strong need for companionship
Male respondents articulated strongly their personalized sense of loss of companionship and need for meal planning and household help. Neither money nor improved health status were perceived as more of a problem than that of the loss of female companionship. Most of the single males stated this was a primary problem in their lives. Elderly urban males need for companionship is contributing to a complex, growing relationship with prostitution and illicit drug usage. Repeated visits by young women prostitutes to elderly men are observed daily. Security officers, managers and community police officers corroborate an increase of prostitution and illicit drug usage in certain housing residences.
Increase in illicit drug usage
There are current research findings corroborating substance abuse by adults age 60 of more. It is easy to see how an urban environment may exacerbate major life changes accompanying the loss of spouses, family members and friends. There is a pressing need to recognize and address the unique problems of the elderly urban male. Creative solutions are needed. In one residence complex there was talk about persons becoming sick with HIV related illness. Both the housing security and in-house residents attribute the rise in recent years deaths to the increase of drug usage, prostitution and the AIDS virus. It is commonly known there as AIDS related deaths.
Urban elderly feel safe for the most part
Urban elderly do not express a general fear of criminality in their neighbourhoods. If given a choice, they prefer to remain in their familiar neighbourhoods even though specific crime data for the City indicates that 20 elderly persons were murdered in 1997. Many elders are not afraid to travel freely in their neighbourhoods; however many were quick to add that there is not enough respect for the elderly in todays communities. Those respondents having locomotion impairment expressed general concern about going out alone due to imbalance and other physical impairments.
Homeowners and middle-class elders may be suffering more than low-income residents
Respondents with higher pensions felt they were often penalized because of their incomes. In one instance, a retired wheelchair bound individual was not able to partake in receiving in-house meals because his monthly income was too high. While he lived in senior housing, ironically daily eating was still a tremendous hardship. Another senior felt that persons not living in special housing were not privy to free amenities like meal assistance or tax relief.
Homeowners appeared to be in more dire straights than persons living in senior housing. Two respondents expressed an inability to purchase additional family food items or needed family prescriptions. This was particular true in families where there may be two or more seniors.
Homeowners expressed a need for home repairs and help to pay higher taxes. One respondent stated she couldnt afford the taxes now and she was unable to fix her roof. She has rain pouring into her three-floor home from a terrible leak in the roof. Homeowners asked what they needed to improve their quality of life said they need help in housing maintenance and repair of roofing, heating, and plumbing problems.
Publicized services available include Adult Day Care, Adult Protective Services, Alzheimers Disease-Caregiver Support, Case Management, Consumer Complaints, Dental Health Services, Friend/Advocate, Home Health Aide assistance, Home Friend (in-home chore service) Nursing Home Ombudsman, Residential Repair, Telephone Reassurance, Reduced Fare Transportation Programmes and Visiting Nurse Service. Vision and Hearing services are also available for some persons having visual and hearing impairment. There is a gap in delivery of benefits and not all older persons are able to receive or access publicized services.
There are many agencies whose services affect the quality of older persons lives. The following short list are just a few selected agencies in Newark, the county and the state: Department of Health and Senior Services, the Essex County Centre for Substance Abuse Treatment Centre, Department of Citizen Services, the Essex County Division on ageing, the New Jersey Advisory Council on Elder Care, the NJ Division of Medical Assistance and the New ark Division of Housing Assistance, the State Department of Health, the Essex County Division of Welfare and the NJ Department of Community Affairs.